Heather Cox Richardson
Sometimes it seems as if athletes feel as if they’re not welcome in academic classrooms; that they’re in college to play a sport, and the classes are only to keep them eligible. Somehow, they seem to feel that good athletes cannot also be good students. THIS IS RIDICULOUS! I don’t believe it, and you shouldn’t either.
The years you have spent perfecting your sport (or your music, or your art…) have given you a skill set that makes you an ideal student, in many ways. You know how to work hard for a long-term goal. You know how to push yourself. You know how to look at the larger frame of a race, or a game, to get the best end result. From working with a team, you know how to look at a goal from a number of different perspectives and to chart your own course to see it through. You know how to budget your time and energy. You have rare skills that translate precisely to a classroom. Many of your classmates don’t have these skills and, rather than feeling unwelcome in a class, you should recognize that your perspective is imperative.
You should do the work for class discussions and then take part in them. Your unique perspective is welcome in class. Yes, you might feel like you’re approaching things in a very different way than your classmates, but this is exactly why your view is so important to the class.
It is true that the years you have spent on the playing fields or in the pool may have shortchanged your writing or reading skills. But those skills can be acquired quite easily with practice. That practice doesn’t necessarily mean tying yourself to a desk and suffering through moldy old books. Stop IMing or picking up your cell phone and instead write emails to your friends and family using good English. Keep a journal. Write to elderly relatives (often nursing homes will print out emails for patients, so don’t say you can’t get to the post office!). And read… anything, so long as it’s grammatically correct. Read blogs, the sports pages (some sports reporters are brilliant writers), the latest Stephen King novel. As you read, think about what you’re reading. Do you agree with the latest predictions about the upcoming baseball season? Why or why not? What makes an argument on a blog convincing? When do you tune someone out? Why? These are the same skills you will use to write term papers and to evaluate arguments. Like anything you do, practice at reading and writing will make it come easier. If all you read are the scholarly books listed on a syllabus, of course it will be difficult. (Imagine trying to play in a golf tournament with no practice, first!). But with a modicum of talent (and everyone in this classroom has a modicum of talent at the very least), practice will achieve a respectable outcome.
Don’t forget, too, that your professors are here to help you, and that there are also a number of academic services on campus.
You don’t have to see yourself as an athlete only, or even as an athlete first. There’s no reason you can’t be both an athlete AND a scholar. Yes, you spend a block of time every day at your sport, but do you really think the students who don’t play a sport spend those hours at the library? They have jobs, other interests, and often just hang around. And you have significant time in buses—enforced work time, when you’ll miss nothing by settling down with work—as well as time spent doing repetitive activity like running, during which you can be reviewing your work in your head. Sports require you to organize your life, but they don’t demand that you ignore everything else.